The gospel; so often our understanding of the gospel is delivered through the four Spiritual laws, or some other eye-catching pamphlet. These will tell people that they are sinners, and they will go to Hell without someone to step in to fill the gap that is between them and God. This enmity that exists can only be filled and fixed by Jesus who died for them and created a bridge to God. This ultimately leads them to accept Jesus by asking him into their heart through this nice concise prayer, with all the correct statements and then they are saved. Its pretty. Its concise. However this is not the gospel.
Many years ago I asked Dr Snyder, a brilliant professor at my College how do you lead someone to Christ? I said, “there is no prayer in the Bible.” Without hesitation he replied, “that is something you have to figure out not me.” He was not suggesting that he does not share the gospel, but he was implying he was a teacher, and I was a Pastor. His brilliant response has had me studying this idea of the Euangelion (gospel) ever since. It has time and time again burdened me, there is no prayer in the Bible. At no point does Jesus suggest that you pray this and all is well. Even Paul and Peter, who expand on Jesus and salvation do not propose such a reduced systematic idea.
I often find it funny to think as Scot McKnight suggested, Nero was not killing Christians because they said they accepted Jesus in their heart, he was killing Christians because they said Jesus was Lord and Savior. The anti-imperial implications are right there. However, I am not suggesting Jesus came to start a revolution as some suggest in the Historical Jesus reconstruction. But something bigger was going on with the early Christians and throughout the apostolic age that we have missed today. How often do you see Jesus saying to the sinners that he encountered, hey pray this prayer with me and your future will be secure? We don’t see that at all. He says you faith has saved you, go and sin no more. There is such a distinction, that is funny when you think of our evangelistic methods today.
The prayer reduces Jesus to dying for your sins, instead of Jesus who said, “ I give my life a ransom for many, no one takes it from me (Mk 10:45 paraphrase),” implying it was not just about you…Don’t misinterpret that, God gave his son for the whole world to which you are part, but not you alone, as your own little personal Jesus (Johnny Cash song). The mistake that we make sometimes is so isolated to you, instead of to all. The atonement brings you into a community, not into an isolated monastic lifestyle (See my previous blog on atonement for further explanation). Jesus spent time with the disciples for three years, when did they come to faith? Jesus was excited when he asked them who do you think I am, and Peter said “You are the Christ” (Matt. 6.16). However, not long after he denies Christ three times, and then in Antioch all the disciples are first called Christians (Acts 11.26).” When exactly did they come to faith, it seems Peter was the first to call him Christ (alluding that no one else suggested that), but then they are not labeled until way later on after Christs death. So for three plus years were they not saved? I know we don’t know the answer to that question, but it just furthers my point.
For so long I have watched so called “Christian” after Christian walk away from God, did they all seriously make a decision to follow Jesus. Is it just a mystical prayer and then your in, is this really the gospel? I do not believe this is the gospel, this is a method of persuasion for the plan of Salvation. Does this systematic form that we follow coincide with what Jesus suggested and the apostles, again I do not agree. Then what…?
Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of what Adam and Eikons (mankind) were suppose to be. When you turn to the book of Matthew you are led through history from Abraham to Jesus, connecting Christ to David and as a son of Abraham. This genealogical journey is showing the story of Israel ultimate fulfilled in and through Jesus. This story of God, Israel, and mankind reaches its climax through the God-man Jesus. This was not some separate God-man as docetism would promote, but 100% man and God. Jesus was fulfilling Israels history and their original call in and around himself. Jesus’ history goes all the way back to Adam in the human-realm, and all the way back to God at creation in the God-realm (John 1). This understanding helps mold and shape the gospel. First and foremost then the gospel is framed by Israel’s story. “The narration of the saving Story of Jesus -his life, his death, his resurrection, his exaltation, and his coming again – as the completion of the Story of Israel” (Scott McKnight The King Jesus Gospel pg. 132).
Secondly, the gospel is centered around the Lordship of Jesus. He is the promised Messiah from Isaiah, Lord, derived from passages like Daniel 7, and Davidic Savior connected with majority of Old Testament prophecy awaiting the new King. I am not implying that I agree with John MacArthur on this subject, but I have not studied enough on that subject itself to make a conclusion one way or he other. But I am suggesting that since the gospel is rooted in Israel and its story, then Jesus as Lord is a central aspect to understanding the gospel.
Third, and fourth, the gospel summons people to respond through repentance, faith in Jesus Christ, and in response to these, through baptism. This then leads to the fourth idea, that the gospel saves and redeems people through forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and atonement.
These four areas are the gospel, they as a whole make a complete picture. These lead people away from a method of persuasion like Hell and brimstone preaching. It directs them to a more holistic- complete- Biblical- approach to who and what Jesus is and how the good news is shaped from and in him. The First Testament then is just as important as the the Second, forming a complete picture at what the gospel really means. One that is shaped by the meta-narrative, and not taken out of context and systematized by following something like the Romans road. Though the Romans road and John’s journey are true, they only make complete sense through the meta-narrative. This understanding of the whole picture then allows us to make the decision to become a follower of Christ being discipled along the way, instead of a one time prayer decision which may just logically make sense, but has nothing to do with your heart.
I would like to finish with a quote from McKnight who is explaining the difference between the Story of Jesus and the Plan of Salvation. “First, our gospeling tends to reduce and aim at one and only one target: the sinner’s heart. Evangelism’s focus is on the individual person, and it is on getting that person to admit that he or she is a sinner and then receive Jesus Christ as Savior and solution to the sin problem. In the Words of Dallas Willard, our gospel is about sin management. But the apostolic gospel can’t be reduced to a gospel of sin management because it was a gospel of Jesus-declaration (that included the defeat of sin and death).” Why then are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John called the gospels? Because they tell the story of Jesus as the completion of Israels’ story, and in doing so they tell the gospel.
Once again all of these thoughts are not mine and I would like to thank Scot McKnight for helping me further understand this concept through his book entitled, “The King Jesus Gospel.” As always, this is part of the journey, not the completion of one.